Is it CI? Is it compelling? Why do it?

I’m watching Russian lessons in this intensive program. I feel as though I’m in a teacher-training course. Often, I ask myself the question that my pre-TPRS life trained me to ask: what proficiency goal does this activity address?

Example: students draw a self-portrait, and around it write everything possible about themselves. Then they play a game in which they try to out-talk others.

Example: students play a game in which each has contributed two family names, one male, one female, to a set of cards. Others draw the cards from a pile and ask scaffolded questions: is this a “he”? A “she”? Is s/he a (teacher)? Is s/he your (mother, father, aunt)? If the answer to a question is “no,” the person answering just gives the correct information, creating a semi-real situation.

One game was played in the beginning class, and one in the more advanced class. The students were competitive in the first, and highly interested in the outcome of the second. In each case, the language was comprehensible, compelling, and repetitive. They’ll be using this language over and over as they get better acquainted with their families here and as they meet new friends.

Back at home, we develop these skills whenever we develop the back story on a figure in a story we’re telling. These are necessary for almost every situation in life. Here the students are using a bigger variety of grammar forms to explain all the pieces of their lives, and for the advanced students, that’s appropriate. They need to be able both to understand and communicate these ideas.

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6 responses to “Is it CI? Is it compelling? Why do it?

  1. Thanks for this timely post, Michele! This is exactly what I’m presenting about at our state conference in October, with native TPRSer Lori Belinsky. I’m also solo piloting a working session on this topic in Agen. I love your examples and will add them, if I may, to the mix of possibilities I’ll ask workshop attendees to consider. Agen will be a CI-leaning group, PSMLA possibly less so. I want to be careful not to criticize teachers’ favorite activities, rather guide them to reflect on the questions you pose in the title of your post. Have you done this with colleagues? Any tips?

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    • Tips? Walk carefully, as I’m sure you will! Tiptoes…on eggshells…it’s awful when we feel our favorite activities are being judged. Ask… Which of these fits one category (good)? Which fits two (better)? Which fits three categories (best): offers repetitive input, comprehensible, compelling. Hmm. Maybe four categories: fits a Can-do or other clear purpose. Maybe you have to start there.

      And maybe I need to think before I start writing answers! Would love to continue this conversation sometime. Not being able to get to either iFLT or NTPRS this summer is starting to hit me.

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  2. oh no! I miss you MIchele and was so hoping I would get a chance to see you at NTPRS! 😦

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    • I know, Skip! I am going to miss all of you. I told Laurie maybe I could do a Skype session with a bunch of you for five minutes or something to get my NTPRS jolt. But honestly, this is a great situation. I’m learning a lot and enjoying speaking a lot of Russian, as well as trying to figure out how I would improve teaching situations if I had free rein. Also trying to write two little easy-readers, so that’s another piece.

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  3. Michele, it sounds like you are finding lots of food for thought in your current observations. I’d love to share thoughts as the summer progresses.

    I just had a wake-up call from a local organization for which I volunteered to tutor ESL one-on-one. After I went through their 9-hour tutor training (I was the only experienced language teacher in the trainee group), I shared my CI thoughts on language acquisition and teaching and asked if it would be OK if I didn’t necessarily follow their book&grammar-based curriculum. At first they said yes, then called me back and said, actually, no. We don’t want you volunteering for us. At all. So yeah, eggshells for sure.

    I see Laurie Clarcq is doing a session on NTPRS called Don’t Miss a Minute! Seems to be an underlying theme… Our PSMLA session is called Making Every Minute Count. Laurie framed her session in all positive terms… “This session will share practical and positive ideas for layering Comprehensible Input, Repetitions and Success throughout each class.” My initial PSMLA proposal was more focused on triaging tried-and-true activities to bring more CI into the classroom. My co-presenter Lori is helping me reframe the focus in terms of creating and tweaking rather than revising and rejecting.

    One of the things I have realized in this past year being out of the classroom day-to-day, away from an unwelcoming department, and helping to build our TriState TCI community is that I don’t want to work at convincing people. Other people are brilliant at that. You are one of those. Laurie is another. Skip is another. I am not. I want to work with people who have already made the decision to learn and change. Two recent discoveries that guide me in this stage of my journey:

    Find your voice
    shout it from the rooftops
    and keep doing it until people
    that are looking for you
    find you.
    –Dan Harmon

    Don’t try to win over the haters.
    You’re not the jackass whisperer.
    –Scott Stratton

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    • Dear Annie,

      I can’t believe that a group could even consider dropping a volunteer for one thing, an experienced teacher for another, and YOU, most of all. They have no clue. Our local volunteer tutoring group actually comes to meetings, and pays for some of their staff to attend our conferences. They want whatever works.

      I am anxious not to step on toes here, though I am working on my story for EEK tomorrow. Judy Dubois, Susie, Lisa, Elaine, Shannon, Charlotte, Terry and others have been sending me fabulous ideas. I will probably have one positive person, the teacher I met coming in to town, who is asking why her university students don’t speak Russian. I’m only going to teach. Not explain anything, not unless they ask. Your points are well taken, and add to my certainty about not evangelizing or judging. So glad you wrote!

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